Winter is a magical time of year, but the season’s harsh side can be especially dangerous for older adults.
By understanding how the cold affects seniors and taking the necessary precautions, you can stay warm and prevent illness and injury. Protect yourself during this winter with the following winter weather safety tips for seniors.
Many people believe that dehydration is only a concern during the summer months. However, a variety of winter factors can cause moisture to leave our bodies quickly, leading to dehydration. Older adults are already at risk of dehydration because they naturally have less water in their bodies. They’re also more likely to have health conditions or take medicines that increase their risk of dehydration – like blood pressure medications that flush water from the body. Dehydration can also cause serious health issues in older adults. Stay hydrated by drinking water throughout the day, especially if you are or have recently been ill with a fever, vomiting, or diarrhea.
Protect Your Skin
Over time, skin becomes thinner, drier, and more fragile. Winter weather can take a toll on aging skin, causing cracking and bleeding, leading to infection. In addition to staying hydrated, older adults need to use moisturizing cream regularly. It is especially effective after bathing when the skin is most absorbent. If you notice your skin starting to crack, notify your healthcare provider as soon as possible.
As we age, our bodies become less effective at regulating heat. Because of this, seniors are at an increased risk of developing hypothermia, a potentially dangerous condition that occurs when the body’s core temperature dips below 95°F. When venturing outdoors, seniors should protect their body from the elements by dressing in multiple layers of clothes, including a hat, scarf, coat, and gloves. Even indoors, older adults should be dressed in warm, comfortable layers so they can easily remove layers if they are too hot or add more if they are too cold.
Monitor Indoor Temperature
When considering cold weather safety for seniors, keep in mind that older adults can become hypothermic indoors. The National Institute on Aging recommends setting the heat to at least 68–70 degrees Fahrenheit. Seniors struggling to afford higher electric bills to keep their home adequately heated should apply for the Low-Income Home Energy Assistance Program (LIHEAP). LIHEAP helps eligible low-income seniors and families with their energy costs through bill payment assistance, weatherization, energy-related home repairs, and more. For help applying for LIHEAP benefits, call this toll-free number: 1-866-674-6327.
Be Smart About Space Heaters
While space heaters can provide much-needed warmth during the colder months, seniors should take certain precautions to ensure they do not become health hazards. Inspect the power cord of your space heater for fraying and get rid of any damaged devices. Always keep space heaters away from flammable materials, such as cloth and paper. Also, be sure to regularly test and place new batteries in all smoke and carbon monoxide detectors.
Exercise Caution with Electric Blankets
Electric blankets can keep older adults warm, but they must be used with caution to avoid burns, electric shocks, and even fires. Any electric blankets that are more than a few years old may need to be replaced. The coils inside the fabric can get damaged over time, increasing the risk of accident or injury. If you are shopping for a new electric blanket, look for versions with an automatic shutoff feature. Also, be sure to use and store electric blankets responsibly. Individuals with poor circulation or nerve damage should exercise caution using heated blankets to avoid thermal burns.
Avoid Slips & Falls
Falls are, unfortunately, a widespread occurrence in older adults. In fact, they are the leading cause of fatal injury among seniors. Add icy conditions to the mix, and the number of falls increases. When venturing outside of the home during the winter months, seniors should wear sturdy shoes or boots with good traction and non-skid soles and only walk on pathways clear of snow and ice. Upon returning home, remove your shoes immediately. Because snow and ice often attach to your shoes’ soles, this can lead to slippery conditions inside.
At Intrepid USA, we help our patients enjoy optimal health year-round. To find out if you qualify for in-home care services, contact us today to speak with a Patient Advocate.